What Happened in Vegas

21 May 2008

Isaac and I took a brief trip to Las Vegas, leaving the evening of Thursday the 8th and returning the evening of Monday the 12th. Here’s a quick trip report.

The outgoing flight was on time.

It’s very strange to see slot machines in the airport gate area.

Airport shuttle vans whose sides are covered with ads are a pain, since you can’t see out properly. That made our first 30 minutes on the strip a bit disappointing.

The Luxor pyramid is quite an amazing place. (We stayed there). We were supposed to have a room in the pyramid, but they told me that there were no more non-smoking rooms available in the pyramid, so we had to stay at ground level in one of the towers. I didn’t mind this much, since our room was quite nice, although I was somewhat indifferent to the Egyptian decor.

My brother Brian came out late to meet us at the hotel, and kindly brought us a cooler full of bottled water and juice, with some yogurt and muffins. That was very helpful and it saved us quite a bit of money on breakfasts! We sat up with him to chat for a while, and my first meal in Vegas was a very good salad with smoked chicken and a glass of good white wine, eaten in a restaurant at the back of the casino. We learned that the casinos all generally had their very expensive name restaurants, but there was also always a less visible “cafe” with more reasonably-priced food.

The room and flight were prepaid, but trying to maintain a tab on our hotel room was a mistake. I had my VISA scanned when I checked in, and all seemed well, then later that evening tried to put our late dinner on my room — only to be told there was a problem with my account. I paid cash for the meal. Then the next morning I had a phone message about a problem with my account. I went to the desk, they said they did not have my card on file, and scanned my card again, and said everything was fine. Then I had another phone message. Back to the desk again, to be told no, there was no issue, everything was fine. I checked with my bank: there was plenty of money available, and I was able to charge other items like show tickets with no trouble.

My guess is that the Luxor’s attempts to reserve money on my card were silently failing, but the system was not clearly displaying this to the employees looking at my account. But the Luxor claimed they were only reserving $100 a day, which did not seem unreasonable. I’ve used my card to pay for hotels with similar policies before, with no troubles. No one at the Luxor’s front desk, or at my bank, could tell me what specifically had gone wrong. This definitely raised my blood pressure. If we go back I’ll just keep everything on a cash basis and avoid trying to bill anything to my room at all.

The 3-hour time change hits me harder as I get older; in Vegas, I was consistently waking up ready for the day at 6 a.m. Isaac, being 13, had no trouble sleeping for another three or four hours. This actually worked out well, since I got a little quiet time in the morning to go get breakfast and read.

I think we counted nine Starbucks locations within walking distance of our room. We probably missed at least one. I’m imagining a call to Starbucks:

“I’m looking for a Starbucks. On the Strip, near the Luxor.”

“Starbucks operates several locations in the Luxor — do you mean on the casino level, the mezzanine level, or the attractions level?”

“The mezzanine level.”

“OK, do you mean the mezzanine level on the side next to the Mandalay shops, or on the side next to the towers?”

“Ummm, next to the towers.”

“OK, do you mean next to the entrance to the East tower, or the entrance next to the West tower?”

“By the entrance to the East tower.”

“OK, sir, look straight ahead and walk about fifteen feet. Thank you for calling Starbucks information.”

I have a photo I’ll have to post, showing the view of one Starbucks, in which another Starbucks barely thirty yards away is visible. And of course this doesn’t count the numerous Starbucks in the airport, also within a few yards of each other. While there may be no consensus yet about Peak Oil, I’m quite certain we’ve passed Peak Starbucks.

The next morning (Friday) we met up with Brian again. This was slightly complicated because the traffic on the strip is terrible, and he did not want to park, so it was a dance of cars and backed-up traffic and pedestrians and cell phones in the front of the hotel. Brian was a real trooper to deal with this traffic every day so that we did not have to rent a car. He showed up with my niece Madeline (12) and nephew Colin (8). I had brought them some small gifts — a book about Mars for Colin, and a copy of the animated movie Ratatouille for Madeline.

Brian gave us a brief tour of the more famous hotels of the strip and then we went to Circus Circus, which has an impressively large indoor amusement park for the kids. A fun time was had by all, although my stomach no longer enjoys amusement park rides very much — they should give them names like the Queasinator! Their rattling, jarring roller coaster served mainly to give both Brian and me a headache, although we both still enjoy good roller coasters. Laser tag was much more fun. After a few hours of SpongeBob and Duck Dodgers, Brian and I were starting to lose our sanity, so we fed the kids some burritos and shoved them back on spinning, flipping rides to see if we could make them lose their lunches. No spectacular high-speed lunch-losing followed, though. (It might have if I had ridden the Inverter or the Disko myself, but I decided that discretion was the better part of valor).

I’m slightly hazy about what happened next. We were juggling several ideas while trying to arrange to meet up with Amy (my sister-in-law) for dinner, but things were getting complicated because several of Amy’s long-lost family members were coming in from out of town, and she was trying to arrange a sort of family reunion. Brian had all kinds of errands to run, meeting people at the airport and what-not. Things were also complicated because I was trying to figure out whether I could manage to take Isaac to see a Blue Man Group show. Several things were up in the air, but what we finally decided on was that we’d get a quick dinner (burgers and salads), then Brian would drop us off a the Venetian and we’d say goodbye for Friday. So that’s what he did.

I managed to get mid-price tickets for the 8 p.m. Blue Man Group show — the hardest part was finding a location that was quiet enough to make the cell phone call. Isaac and I first had several hours to get dinner and wander around the Venetian. There is an indoor canal with gondolas that runs through numerous galleries full of shops, with an artificial sky — it is a bit mind-blowing. These buildings are just enormous. The Blue Man show was entertaining — surreal and funny — and Isaac enjoyed it. At one point we had a blue man standing on the back of Isaac’s seat! But I had the feeling that there was a small, inexpensive, artsy black box theater-style show trying to get out from inside the extremely expensive and lavish show, and they were basically trying to cover up this simple fact with strobe lights and paper and expensive props. We caught a cab back to the Luxor and promptly fell asleep.

The next day, Saturday, we had some time in the morning to relax and kick around the Luxor. Isaac and I did some exploring. The Luxor is part of a linked complex of 3 hotels, including the Excalibur and the Mandalay Bay, all linked by pedestrian walkways (the monorail was apparently not running, sadly). We explored the enormous casinos and restaurants and shops. I was trying to find Isaac a pair of nice non-prescription Ray-Ban sunglasses. I guess Ray-Bans are far too downscale, though, because all I could find were much more expensive brands covered with Swarkowski crystals or what-not.

If I recall correctly — I might have the day wrong, since the whole four-day weekend was a bit of a whirlwhind — Brian then picked us up and drove us out to Red Rocks state park, we did an audio tour of the visitor center there, then drove out to find a short hiking trail. It was just the right length for us, especially given that we were not at all accustomed to the climate. The terrain was gorgeous and I took some pictures, some of which I’ll get up here on the blog eventually. Even after living for a time in Southern California and seeing the American west, I still find it just a bit surreal to get on a plane in Michigan’s climate and vegetation and get off a few hours later in the middle of a desert.

The plan was for Brian and a friend to meet up with us that evening at the Rumjungle bar and restaurant in the Mandalay later that evening, preparatory to seeing Rush live in the Events Center. That plan was slightly delayed, because of all the picking up and dropping off that Brian had to take care of. But we all met up in plenty of time for the show.

The Rush show was fantastic — Brian had done some ticket trading to get terrific seats, and the sound quality was very good. We could even see the chickens turning on their rotisseries behind Geddy’s keyboards! Rush plays a very long show, and they dug into their back catalog with songs they have not played live in a long time, like “Digital Man” and “A Passage to Bangkok.” They played all three instrumentals from Snakes and Arrows, and all three were really good live. This was the best rock show I’ve ever seen. The show ended late, so after showing Brian and his friend around the Luxor we said goodnight and headed back to our room.

On Sunday Brian picked us up again, we all picked up some of Amy’s relatives, and headed out to Lake Mead for a picnic and the family reunion for Amy’s side of the family. That was a lot of fun, although it was a bit windy and gritty out on the lake. We were all a bit sunburned and dusty by late afternoon and wanted mostly to get a shower, so we didn’t make a late night of it. Isaac and I went to explore the Excalibur shops, found a t-shirt for Veronica, had crab cakes and ribs for dinner at a restaurant in the Excaliber’s casino, and unwound.

On Monday we didn’t have a lot of time left before we had to get to the airport for our flight — and Brian was back at work, with a court appearance in the morning. We basically packed up, explored the Mandalay shops, and then Brian picked us up and we went out for a coffee. When he had to head back to work, he dropped us off at Ed Roman Guitars, a landmark music store, where I spent a couple of hours checking out their stock of vintage Steinberger guitars, and Isaac tried out electric basses.

We had checked our bags at the Luxor, and when it was time we were able to walk back to the hotel, stopping off for a quick meal at In and Out Burger, to pick up our bags and catch the pre-arranged airport shuttle. We had a bit of a wait at the airport, since the plane was delayed, but only by an hour. I’m pretty sure, but can’t prove, that Paris Hilton was on our flight to Detroit, traveling with a small entourage. I have no idea what she was doing on her way to Detroit, if it was her. I’m not really a Paris Hilton fan and am unsure if I could pick her out of, say, a police lineup, should the need every arise, but nevertheless I still think it was her.

So there it is! A very enjoyable trip — a bit of a whirlwind tour, but I’m hoping to go back to Vegas someday soon. I did not gamble a dime — the only game of chance was wondering if our plane would be on time. We lost that bet, but fortunately it did not cost us anything except some sleep!

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